Human Exceptionalism

Interfering with Natural Selection

This charming story about Jessica the Hippo is a bit disturbing. Jessica was saved from death by human intervention–we are the only species that do this constantly for species other than our own. And the game warden’s saving her life at the age of one day, represents our unique capacity to empathize with all life. (Yes, I have heard the occasional story about humans being saved by dolphins from sharks.) Not only did this interfere with the usual workings of natural selection, but rather than returning to the wild, she has been substantially domesticated. Indeed, she is now a pet.
Animal behavior can be profoundly impacted by their contacts with us–as Jessica demonstrates. This shows us our raw power to surmount nature–another unique attribute of human beings that make us so exceptional.

But with that power come solemn responsibilities. I am not sure that domesticating wild animals like hippos fulfills that responsibility properly. Jessica is happy, sure. But we have interfered with nature in a profound fashion. And we have changed her in ways that could affect her progeny.

Is this right? What say you?